Originally created 06/10/02

NBA notebook



EDS: SUBS 5th item to CORRECT Ainge to 1992 and 1993; WILL be UPDATED.

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New Jersey Nets certainly haven't held back in their admiration of Shaquille O'Neal's dominating performances in the first two games of the NBA Finals.

It didn't stop before Game 3 on Sunday night, when Nets coach Byron Scott said O'Neal could lead just about any team to the Finals.

"You could put him on the Memphis Grizzlies, they'd probably be in the Finals," Scott said. "He's that good. Be realistic about it, the guy's the most dominant player in the league.

"When he wants to play, there's nobody in the league that can stop him."

The Nets certainly haven't, allowing O'Neal to get a total of 76 points and 28 rebounds in the Lakers' first two victories.

Still, coach Phil Jackson bristled at the implication his Lakers were a one-man team and insisted it takes more than one dominant player to make a championship run.

"That's mistaken type of generalities, I think, that you would say something like that," Jackson said when told of Scott's remark. "It takes a lot of playing together, it takes a lot of teamwork, it takes a lot of cooperation.

"It takes time to put teams together that can manufacture something like that. So I think it's a big step to say something like that."

GET WITH IT: In assessing the Nets' losses in the first two games of the series, Scott deduced his players have not all shown up for the series and have made more mistakes in the Finals then they did in the first three rounds of the playoffs combined.

"We haven't played the way we're capable of playing," he said. "I told the guys percentage-wise, we're playing at about 65 percent on the physical level and we're playing about 20, 25 percent on the mental level."

Scott also warned that if he sensed anything but 100 percent the rest of the way, he wouldn't hesitate to pull players out of the game.

"As soon as I see a couple of mental mistakes, that's telling me you're not ready to play," he said. "You're not here, you're not involved, you don't know what's going on ... your body's here but your mind isn't. I need both against this team."

CLOSE TIES: O'Neal and teammate Kobe Bryant have never been the best of friends, but Jackson believes their relationship is as good now as it ever has been.

The two Los Angeles superstars have had issues with each other in the past and have often fought to mix their very different styles of play.

"Their relationship, from the start, wasn't totally congenial," Jackson said. "In the last couple years, they blended their talents together very well. I think it was Kobe's ability to grow up, to adjust, to accommodate Shaq's extending his hand out to Kobe and inviting him into his world, so to speak.

"Even though they have very different worlds, made their relationship as good as it is."

SHAQ PACK: Even though it's New Jersey's home game, the arena had a familiar feeling for O'Neal.

A native of Newark, just a short drive from Continental Airlines Arena, O'Neal expected about 85 members of his extended family at the game. But O'Neal has downplayed the homecoming.

"I'm going to do what I usually do when I go to New Jersey," he said. "I'm going to see my father's father and I'm going to see my great-grandmother. Chill out, eat some macaroni and cheese and fried chicken and just hang out, and that will be about it."

Still, O'Neal admits he'd like nothing more than to win a championship close to home - something Bryant did last year in his hometown of Philadelphia. That's why the trip here is all business.

"I'm on a mission and I want to take care of business," O'Neal said. "Nothing else really matters."

SECOND LOOK: Nets center Todd MacCulloch is the fourth player to appear in the NBA Finals for two teams in consecutive years.

MacCulloch reached the Finals last season with the Philadelphia 76ers, joining Steve Mix, who played for Philadelphia in 1982 and the Lakers in 1983; Danny Ainge, who made it with Portland in 1992 and Phoenix in 1993; and Steve Kerr, who did it with Chicago in 1998 and San Antonio in 1999.

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CATCHING RILEY: Jackson went into Sunday's game one behind Pat Riley on the career playoff victory list.

Riley, whose Miami Heat did not make the playoffs this year, is 155-100, while Jackson was 154-53 heading into Game 3.



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